In Chapter 14, The Good Place is rebooted with a plan to keep the humans separate from each other. The goal is to keep them from discovering they are in The Bad Place. Eventually, the plan is for the humans to be brought together so that they will torture each other. We see during the episode how each is brought into Michael’s office and told they are in The Good Place. What is never questioned, either in Season One or Season Two, is that they are dead and in the afterlife. Why not? If you woke up one day and someone told you that you were in the afterlife, would you just believe that person?
In Mediations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes is seeking a foundation for knowledge. Descartes is troubled by the fact that things he thought he knew turned out to be false. So, how can we ever know what is true or real? We have all had vivid dreams that seemed real. We have seen things that turned out not to be true. Given this, Descartes adopts the methodology of the skeptic. If he can find a reason to doubt a belief, no matter how unlikely that doubt seems, that is a good enough reason for treating the belief as false. For example, if I can find a reason to doubt that my senses are reliable, then all my beliefs based on my senses should be dismissed.
In putting forth reasons for doubt, Descartes writes at the end of his First Meditation,
“I shall therefore suppose that . . . some malicious demon of the utmost power and deceitfulness has employed his whole energies in deceiving me. I shall consider that the heavens, the earth, colors, figures, sound, and all other external things are the illusions and dreams of which this demon has devised in order to lay traps for my judgment.”
It is my contention that Michael is the evil demon that Descartes is writing about. Michael has built an entire fictional world for the sole purpose of deceiving them. Everything there, is in a sense, an illusion. While it may feel physical, the objects come and go at Michael’s will. This raises the question, we think we are alive and living in the real world; however, how can we know? Isn’t it possible that we are in The Bad Place or in just some long vivid dream?
Descartes solution to his doubting is God. Descartes proves that God exists. God, is perfect. Perfection includes moral perfection. A morally perfect being would not deceive humans, nor would one permit an evil demon to trick humans into thinking there is an external world when there is not.
Would an all-good God permit humans to believe that they are in The Good Place, when they are really in The Bad Place? From Descartes perspective, it seems unlikely. Therefore, not only is Michael the type of evil demon that Descartes worried about, there is no all-good God around to save them. They will forever be stuck never being able to be sure if what is presented to them is real.
To look forward to Season Four, what this means is we have no reason to suppose that they ever left The Bad Place to begin with. This could still just be one long continued manipulation. Or part of the afterlife moral education program. Or an infinite amount of other possibilities. If there are evil demons capable of distorting our senses and erasing our memories, then it seems as though we can never have the certainty we need to know if what we are experiencing is real or an illusion.